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Binge Drinking: Not Just a Problem on Campus

     

April is Alcohol Awareness Month and one area of public health concern is binge drinking. College parties may come to mind when we think of binge drinking, but a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) highlights the significant problem of binge drinking among adults. And estimated 17 percent of U.S. adults (more than 37 million) reported binge drinking, which is drinking four or more drinks for women, five or more for men, on one occasion. While binge drinking was more common among younger adults (18 – 34), more than three-quarters of all binge drinks are consumed by adults over 25 years. Binge drinking accounts for more than half of the 88,000 U.S. deaths from excessive drinking ear year.

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People who binge drink reported an average of 53 binge-drinking episodes annually or about one per week. Among people who drink, nearly one-in-three reported at least one episode of binge drinking in the past 30 days. In the CDC study, men reported binge drinking at twice the levels of women (22 percent versus 12 percent).

While rates of binge drinking have gone down for youth and young adults they’ve remained steady for adults 26 and older. Over the past decade, the rate of binge drinking and heavy drinking among adult males* over 26 years has remained steady, whereas the rate of binge drinking and heavy drinking among young adult males* 18 to 25 and among both male and female youth 12 to 20 years has steadily declined, based on data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

Binge drinking: a public health problem

There are significant public health consequences of binge drinking. It is associated with health and social problems including unintentional injuries (car crashes, falls, burns), violence, new HIV infection, chronic diseases (high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease) and memory and learning problems.

Binge drinking is also costly. It is responsible for about $190 billion annually in costs related to losses in workplace productivity, health care expenditures, criminal justice costs, and other expenses, according to CDC.

Binge drinking and alcohol use disorder

While binge drinking is problematic and has numerous potential consequences, binge drinking does not mean a person has alcohol use disorder (alcoholism). In fact, most are not: an estimated nine in 10 adults who binge drink are not alcohol dependent.

Addressing the public health concern

Clinical screening and intervention are a key part of addressing the public health concerns posed by binge drinking. in addition, recommendations from CDC and The Community Preventive Services Task Force** include, policies such as increasing alcohol taxes, limiting the number of retail alcohol outlets that sell alcoholic beverages in a given area, consistently enforcing laws against underage drinking and alcohol-impaired driving and screening and counseling for alcohol misuse.

References

  • CDC Fact Sheet: Binge drinking. https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/binge-drinking.htm
  • Kanny D., et al. Annual Total Binge Drinks Consumed by U.S. Adults, 2015. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 2018;54(4):486-496. (from the CDC)
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 2016.
  • CDC. Press Release: Most people who drink excessively are not alcohol dependent. 2014.

*Comparable data not available for women.

** The Community Preventive Services Task Force (CPSTF) is an independent, nonfederal panel of public health and prevention experts that provides evidence-based findings and recommendations about community preventive services, programs, and other interventions aimed at improving population health.

     

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